Far more Central Albertans are seeking assistance from the Red Deer Food Bank, Christmas Bureau and Salvation Army this holiday season than in December 2020.
Inflation is hitting hard at grocery stores, while many government assistance programs — including the CERB income-replacement available during COVID lockdowns, and other wage benefits and rental subsidies — have ended.
“We’re certainly seeing a huge surge in numbers” as a result of these changes, said Red Deer Christmas Bureau president Teresa Kutynec, who’s helping about 30 new applicants a day.
The number of weekly food hampers prepared by the Salvation Army has tripled from the same time last year, said Major Kent Hepditch of the charity’s Red Deer chapter.
And the Red Deer Food Bank is also seeing growing clientele. “The monthly average of people in need is up 40 per cent this year over last,”said the food bank’s executive-director Mitch Thomson. Demand for hampers is particularly high with 68-75 a day being given out, compared to the more usual 35-50 daily in the regular season, he added.
At the Christmas Bureau, Kutynec expects to help more clients this holiday season than the 855 adults and 703 children that were assisted last year.
Fewer people applied at the Bureau during the first pandemic Christmas, she said. “With CERB a lot of people believed they didn’t need the assistance, and that was a good thing…”
But while demand is now growing, Kutynec believes Red Deerians will step up to meet it, as they have in the past. “We’re very lucky. Red Deer is a fabulous community and always thinks of us this time of year.”
Despite several successful donation drives, including last weekend’s Stuff-a-Bus campaign at Parkland Mall, the Christmas Bureau is still short some items. Anyone wanting to donate for young people of any age can bring new books, as the bureau has a literary program, said Kutynec. As well, jigsaw puzzles and board games are appreciated.
This year, there’s an unusual doll shortage at the bureau, and some families are particularly requesting Barbie dolls. Kutynec believes a shortage of new Disney movies has reduced offerings.
She believes good teenager gifts are tool sets, perfume/cologne gift packs, or emergency car kits for young drivers.
Donation boxes for the bureau are available at both malls, as well as Winners and many local businesses.
The Red Deer Food Bank has benefitted from local food drives, including 247 turkeys provided by local realtor Dale Devereaux and friends. But as Thomson expects 700 emergency hampers to be packed this month and 4,000 people to come through the facility, he believes about 100 more turkeys as well as breakfast cereal and other non-perishables will be needed.
Cash donations are greatly appreciated as “we can leverage this funding so that they go a long way,” said Thomson.
So far, the Salvation Army’s kettle campaign is going well — as of Nov. 30, it’s up about $5,000 from last year, said Hepditch. He’s glad because the kettle campaign is the non-profit’s biggest fundraiser, supporting programs all year long.
The Salvation Army is not holding a Christmas dinner for the second year. With several other charities offering holiday meals, the Salvation Army is instead directing its supplies and volunteers to these holiday meals, which will be hosted by The Mustard Seed, Potter’s Hands soup kitchen and Gaetz United Church.